False Hope

November 1968 • La Habra, California

Noreen and Hillman

Mom and her Hillman, circa 1962

When my mother died, her life was packed in a small 1954 two-door, light blue white-topped convertible Hillman Minx, now parked in my sister’s driveway. The front seat held her clothes, small feather pillow, and jewelry; the back seat, her black and gold Singer, button collection, and sewing box. In the trunk were her pots and pans and meat grinder, her mother’s round deco mirror, and her family pictures. On top was her blue Samsonite overnight case, filled with bottles of pills that through the years kept watch over her like toy plastic soldiers with white caps, standing silent sentry atop her dresser. She carried with her a pharmacy: diet, pain, and sleeping pills; pills for her stomach, her anxiety and depression, and pills for everything else in the world that ailed her. Over the years Mom lived on green tea, rare steak, and pills: Benzedrine and Dexedrine. Nembutal, Tuinal and Seconal. Librium and Valium. Darvon. Thorazine and Stelazine. There were over-the-counters: aspirin, Excedrin, and a large, cobalt blue bottle of Bromo-Seltzer. My mother the cosmic omnivore and pharmaceutical zombie.

my mother, Noreen Clemens

My mother, Noreen Clemens

The five of us spread Mom’s possessions on Carleen’s living room rug. Larry chose her silver charm bracelet and costume jewelry. Carleen took her sewing scissors and white half-slip. Betty picked the sewing machine, the round mirror, the Dutch oven, the cast iron pans, and the meat grinder. Claudia ended up with her full-length white evening coat and a handful of jewelry. I wanted her Liberty head necklace and her delicate Gruen wristwatch. We split up Mom’s family pictures, and then we flushed thousands of white pills and colored capsules down the toilet and unceremoniously tossed the stack of receipts that accompanied them. Her button collection and clothes we gave to the Salvation Army. Nobody remembers what we did with her small blue Hillman, though for months it sat in the driveway in La Habra along with the long abandoned Mercury, keeping it company.

Mausoleum wall in Memory Garden, Brea, CA

Memory Garden Cemetery, Brea

There was no funeral, no flowers or friends; only her children came to witness her ashes being ensconced in a small cemetery in Brea, and that was only because our brother made us. Mother is now secured behind a small bronze door at the top of a mausoleum wall, high enough where she could no longer get me. Standing there, the five of us were filled with a mixture of relief, regret, remorse, and resentment; we said good-by and left—and except for my brother Larry—never went back. It didn’t matter any more. I thought none of it mattered any more.

If you’d asked me, I’d have said I’d given up years ago of her ever wanting me, of listening to or seeing me. But secretly I’d always harbored hope that my mother loved me, my false hope better than no hope at all.


Share this:


  1. Janet Sasaki says:

    I love your honesty and sincerity and your memory of details. I seem to have blocked out the negative part, but along with it a lot of the other parts too! Amazing how you are a survivor in the best way! I remember when a psychiatrist told me that I was a survivor, I was 25 at that time, and it would take me another 25 years to change myself, still working on it after 50 years!

  2. Juliette Andrews says:

    Touching and makes me cry. I love you 70.

  3. So sad and yet it heartened me somehow to know others lived through the same absentee “parenting” and survived.

  4. You got me on this one: hook, line and sinker. Beautifully written by beautiful you.

  5. Catherine, our saga of conincidences continues. Drum roll….
    Both my mother and father were burried at Memory Gardens in Brea: my dad in 1958, and my mother in 1980! Sadly, both of their individual lives were tortured much like your mother’s. It’s been 35 years since I last visited. Keep on writing. Terry McCarty

Speak Your Mind